Genesis 14:1-15:21 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What happened to Sodom and the other cities of the plain? See Genesis 14:1-2 (printed below)

At the time when Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim were in power, (2) they waged war against Bera the king of Sodom, Birsha the king of Gomorrah, Shinab the king of Admah, Shemeber the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (which is also called Zoar). (Genesis 14:1-2)

For twelve years the city-states of Sodom and Gomorrah were forced to pay a hefty financial tribute to a powerful confederacy under the leadership of a warlord named Chedorlaomer. When, in the 13th year, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah rebelled, Chedorlaomer launched a military campaign against them. The outcome: the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah were defeated, their cities were plundered (14:11), and many captives were taken into slavery, included among them was Lot and his family (14:12).

2. After Abram returned from rescuing Lot, he was met by two men. Who were they and how did they treat Abram? See Genesis 14:17-21 (printed below)

The king of Sodom went out to meet Abram at the valley of Shaveh (which is the King’s Valley) after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him. (18) And Melchizedek king of Salem brought bread and wine; now he was priest of God Most High. (19) And Melchizedek blessed him saying, Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; (20) and blessed be God Most High, the One who has delivered your enemies into your hand. And Abram gave him a tenth of all the spoils. (21) And the king of Sodom said to Abram, Give me the people, but keep the spoils for yourself. (Genesis 14:17-21)

As Abram returns in victory with the spoil, he is met by the grateful king of Sodom and the mysterious Melchizedek. Melchizedek is described as “priest of God Most High.” He brings bread and wine (for a communion meal), he blesses Abram in the name of God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, and he blesses God Most High who gave Abram the victory. The king of Sodom requests Abram to return the citizens to his city, and offers to allow Abram to keep all the spoils of war for himself.

3. How does Abram respond to each of these men respectively? See Genesis 14:19-20, 22-23 (printed below)

And Melchizedek blessed him saying, Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; (20) and blessed be God Most High, the One who has delivered your enemies into your hand. And Abram gave him a tenth of all the spoils… But Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have raised my hand in oath to Jehovah, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth,(23) that I will not take so much as a thread or a thong of a sandal or anything else that belongs to you, so that you may not say, I have made Abram rich. (Genesis 14:19-20,22-23)

Abram gave a tenth of the spoil to Melchizedek, as a tithe to the Lord (acknowledging that the Lord is Possessor of all and the Giver of victory over the enemies of His people). Abram returns all the rest of the spoils to the king of Sodom. He does so in order to honor his vow to the Lord (14:22-23) and in order to avoid having the king of Sodom become his benefactor and his lord to whom he would be indebted. Abram did what he did, even at a personal sacrifice, in order that he might be loyal to the Lord his God, and that he might not become indebted to the pagan king of Sodom.

4. Describe the details of Abram’s encounter with the Lord as recorded in Genesis 15:1-6 (printed below). What do you think is significant about the timing of this event?

After these things the word of Jehovah came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I am your shield, and your reward shall be exceedingly great. (2) And Abram said, O Lord Jehovah, what will you give me, seeing that I am childless, and the one who shall inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? (3) And Abram said, To me you have given no offspring; so a servant born in my household is my heir. (4) Then the word of Jehovah came to him, saying, This man shall not be your heir; rather, he who shall come forth out of your own bowels shall be your heir. (5) And Jehovah brought him out to the open field and said, Look toward heaven and number the stars, if you are able to number them. Then he said to him, So shall your offspring be. (6) And he believed Jehovah; and Jehovah credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)

“After these things,” (i.e., after Abram’s refusal of the king of Sodom’s offer), “the Word of the Jehovah came to Abram” (15:1). Once again—as occurred earlier when Lot departed (Genesis 13:14-15)—following a difficult, but godly choice, the Lord draws near to Abram with renewed assurance. By means of a supernatural vision the Lord speaks to Abram: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield, and your reward shall be exceedingly great.” Once again, it is a word of assurance that Abram’s faith and loyalty shall be rewarded and not forgotten. Again the Lord renews His promise to give Abram a son and descendants as numerous as the stars.

5. In order to bolster Abram’s faith, the Lord condescends to enter into a covenant with Abram. Describe the making of that covenant. See Genesis 15:9-18 (printed below)

And he said to him, Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat and a three-year-old ram, also a turtle-dove and a young pigeon. (10) Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two, and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. (11) Then the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. (12) And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and a horror of great darkness fell upon him. (13) And he said to Abram, Know for sure that your descendants shall be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and they shall serve the inhabitants of that land; and that nation shall afflict your descendants for four hundred years. (14) But also know that I will judge that nation whom they shall serve; and afterward shall they come out with great possessions. (15) But you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. (16) And in the fourth generation your descendants shall come back here again; because the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. (17) When the sun went down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between the pieces of the divided animal carcasses. (18) On that day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram, saying, To your descendants have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the Euphrates (Genesis 15:9-18)

What is described in verses 9-21 is a covenant-making ceremony typical of that day. The parties involved would bring several animals that would be sacrificed and their carcasses then split in half. The divided carcasses would then be arranged to form a corridor. The parties entering into covenant would then pass through the corridor of divided carcasses, thereby pledging themselves to fulfill the covenant on penalty of death ( Commentaries on the Old Testament, The Pentateuch, Vol.1, Keil & Delitzsch, p.214). There is one significant difference between this particular covenant and the typical covenants of the day: in this covenant only the Lord passed through the corridor of death: “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between the pieces of the divided animal carcasses” (15:17). The “smoking fire pot and flaming torch” were representing the Lord’s own presence and are comparable to the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire described in Exodus 13:21. The Lord was actively taking upon Himself the obligation to fulfill the covenant, while Abram was to passively rely upon the Lord’s faithfulness.